X-MEN: The Fallen
Chapter Two: X?
Ororo Munroe placed her hand atop Jean Grey's as they sat next to one another. The sky was dark, the wind was mellow – and the group of extraordinary individuals sat gathered, as they had many times, scattered in rows of chairs across the lawn of the Xavier Institute.
The joint funerals were as much for the actual Institute as it was for the individuals who'd fallen in the final conflict they'd ever face here on the grounds – or anywhere else. The building lay in shambles; most of the property itself had been destroyed.
Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, pulled at one of his chair's legs as it sank into a spot of the lawn which was amongst the casualties from that fateful day now one week ago.
They had decided to leave the Institute in its present condition – Kurt struggled desperately to recall how Ororo, now acting Headmistress of the Institute, had put it:
"This place is as much of a tribute as it is anything else now. We will not disturb it – we will not disturb them."
Arguments had sprung up – why would the X-Men who'd fallen in combat be buried here? Wasn't it enough of a burial ground now on its own?
Summers had no family to object. McCoy's had long since distanced themselves from their son, former Avenger or not – they couldn't recognize their little boy.
Emma's attorneys had put in several calls – a large sum of money went to the Institute's name. No one objected to her final resting place. Piotr's family, what was left of them, could barely make it through the phone call: another child lost to the dream of Charles Xavier.
Even Kitty had lost her family in wars waged against mutant kind – her father having perished in Genosha courtesy of Cassandra Nova's sentinel attack.
Storm had silenced most of the fears and concerns on the matter: this place was their home. These people had been their family.
They would lie here, on the grounds.
"I can't feel them looking at me, Ororo," Jean Grey spoke into her friend's shoulder. "But I can see it."
"Your return, Jean," Munroe replied softly, "they're simply concerned. Shocked. You're here, alive and well…"
"And so many aren't."
Ororo's hand tightened around her friend's.
"We need to regroup," Warren Worthington paced before a handful of old teammates who sat along each side of a long, rectangular table. Most remained in their funeral attire.
"For what?" Robert Drake stood, slamming his fist into the table as it transferred into solid ice. A small area around his fist joined in the freezing.
"For Scott, Bobby," Warren sighed. "And Hank. And Kitty. Peter. Emma."
Drake narrowed his eyes before he finished Frost's name. "It's over, Warren. It's fucking over."
"Calm down, mein freund," Kurt said without even looking up from his seat.
"Don't do this, Bobby," Jean spoke up next.
"Don't tell me what to do, Jean," Drake said in a cold tone. "You show up here out of nowhere – again – coming from wherever the hell you've been – again – while the rest of us have been dying off, all for Charles Xavier or whatever the hell's left of the mission statement he imposed on the rest of us!"
Worthington sharpened. "DRAKE."
"Well guess what, Jean," Bobby stared at her, now in full ice-form. The two locked eyes for a moment, everyone else in the room staring at the two.
"The rest of us don't get to fucking come back."
Iceman turned, pushing his seat back toward the wall before heading for the door. "I'm out."
"Forget it, Warren," she sighed as she stood. "I'm going to go."
Ororo Munroe stood up, looking to her dear friend – and then watching her wave her back to her seat.
"I'll be at the embassy, Ororo."
"Happy you could make it, luv," Pete Wisdom said as he removed his feet from the desk in front of him. Domino pulled the door closed and stood next to the chair on its opposite side. "Have a seat."
Wisdom tilted his head, reminding Domino of a parrot – the ability to speak, the inability to comprehend.
"I just set up half of the X-Men, Wisdom. You tell me."
Wisdom pulled out a cigarette, his last one, and threw the pack on the desk before him. "Bugger."
"Sorry, luv," he said coolly as he stood, walking around the desk to stand next to his co-worker. "You signed up for this program, as I recall."
"Not to kill people I respect."
"Wouldn't be the first time, would it?"
Domino's eyes narrowed.
"We have surveillance, Dommy dear. We know you're not just strictly followin' orders, hm?"
The woman arched an eyebrow, tightening her grip on the chair next to her.
"Did it for Nathan, yeh?"
"That's none of your concern."
Wisdom began to walk around the room – his eyes fixated on the woman in his office all the while. "When you signed your contract with British Intel, Domino," he took a drag of his cigarette, "you signed your life away. You swore allegiance – and secrecy. You work for us."
"I work for myself."
"Tsk, then," he grinned. "Listen.
We can't have you 'following orders' for reasons other than what we're givin' you, hm?"
"What about Excalibur, Wisdom?"
He hesitated, choking a bit and then releasing some smoke from his mouth. "I did what had t'be done."
"You led them into a trap."
"The government doesn't need people runnin' around in tights, Domino. You've at least gotten with that program, haven't you?"
"You're just as responsible for their death as you are the death of Kitty Pryde."
Wisdom stopped in his tracks. The two stared at one another for a minute, tension running high.
He thought for a moment before speaking – remembering both his sweet Katharine's face and her touch.
"Makes two of us, then."
He took another drag.
"I don't know why you're all so afraid to say it," Madrox spoke up – the first to speak since Jean and Iceman's departure.
"Say what?" Warren asked from the head of the table, the X-Man now sitting in a chair of his own.
"I know the rest of you are a bit more used to her popping up from time to time, giving people like Siryn false hope when it comes to her father…"
"What are you playing at, Madrox?" Storm asked in a serious tone.
"Jean. She's back. Doesn't that mean something big is happening?"
Nightcrawler sat up. "If anything is big, Herr Madrox—"
"What Kurt is trying to say," Storm interrupted, "is that a more pressing matter than Jean's return is that half of the X-Men are dead. And yet we're sitting around here bickering like children."
"Settle down, Storm," Madrox challenged.
"He's right," Wolverine answered – the small group of men and women turning in unison. No one had even seen him come in.
"If Jean's back, this is only gonna get worse."
"She's powerless, Logan," Angel snapped.
"Most mutants are. And I can guarantee half of 'em ain't flown into the sun."
Warren said nothing, only gazing over the room of men and women he'd fought with on so many occasions. Hid mind wandered for a moment – where was Charles? How were they going to reach Alex and his team of X-Men that were still in space? From the sound of things, this wasn't the Magneto he'd faced so many times... and if it wasn't, well...
What the hell were they actually up against?
Betsy Braddock fell hard to the ground, quickly pulling herself to her feet – just in time to flip into the air, land atop a car and flip off behind it before she lost her balance.
The mutant quickly made her way to the sidewalk – looking curiously at the busy intersection she'd just found herself materializing in.
"Heather?" she asked aloud, attempting to communicate with her Exiles teammate.
Psylocke surveyed her surroundings – she was in Times Square. If she hadn't recognized any of the buildings, the crowd which pummeled through and around her would've given her a clue.
She had been transporting with several of her teammates to another world just moments ago – but couldn't help feeling she was back on her own earth, in her own time.
She'd soon find out she was.